Oklahoma drinking water getting trashed by oil and gas injection wells
Clean Water Action, a 45-year-old eco-advocacy group that opposes hydraulic fracturing, has released a 16-page report that argues Oklahoma regulators are ignoring risks to underground sources of drinking water (USDWs) from oil and gas wastewater injection wells. The regulators challenge the report’s assertions, but the report says this is occurring because the regulators are using a flawed gauge to protect those sources. And violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act may be occurring.
The report—Oklahoma Drinking Water at Risk: Exposing Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Flawed Drinking Water Protecting Policies—stated in its executive summary:
New research shows that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) may have permitted oil and gas wells to inject into potential underground sources of drinking water that are supposed to be protected by federal law and off limits to fossil fuel activities. This analysis of injection well locations and water quality data indicates that the OCC may have failed to protect underground sources of drinking water (USDW) from oil and gas injection wells. The OCC uses Base-of-Treatable (BTW) water maps to define where groundwater must be protected as USDW. However, it appears that injection well permitting has not always followed this rule.
In fact, CWA researchers found that 18 injection wells were apparently allowed to inject into depths above the BTW and did not obtain the aquifer exemption approval for the injections. Additionally, an analysis of 6,844 domestic water wells and 175 public water supply wells take their groundwater from below the reported BTW. “Since these drinking water wells are extracting useable water, the accuracy of the BTW must be called into question.” A spokesman for the OCC, Matt Skinner, told Samantha Page at Think Progress via email, “The study is based on faulty data that we warned the group about in February when they presented their draft findings and we saw what data they were using.”
John Noël, the report’s lead editor, responded in a statement.
“It’s disturbing that the OCC may have permitted oil and gas wells to inject directly into potential drinking water sources, and that the agency can’t accurately point to where the drinking water is located. That’s fundamental to the OCC’s job — it is the agency that is supposed to protect Oklahomans’ drinking water from the impacts of oil and gas activities. Without proper information, the OCC cannot assure that the state’s many thousands of injection wells have all been permitted safely.”
He told Page: “They are admitting there is flawed data publicly available and that’s what we are basing our analysis on. How are they able to safely permit oil and gas wells?”
Noël and the report’s other contributors provided a list of 15 recommendations for both state and federal regulators. One of those is a moratorium on any new well that requires an aquifer exemption until such time as the other recommendations are fulfilled. Those include mapping all “current, past and future oil and gas production fields and wastewater disposal fields to determine if these areas contain USDWs” and having the Environmental Protection Agency “update the regulatory exemption criteria and required analysis in order to reflect changing circumstances and be more protective of potential drinking water sources.”
Given the crew now skulking around the EPA, good luck on that last one.
(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)